Podcast summary

For the final episode of Season 1 of Diversonomics, host Roberto Aburto speaks to Carolyn Lawrence, gender leader, inclusion & diversity at Deloitte. She explains why more and more law firms and big businesses are implementing unconscious bias training in their offices, and how understanding the needs of millennials can go a long way in improving employee recruitment and retention.

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Episode tip

"Where an organization...can reap the benefits of having diverse people around the table if they have that inclusive culture...Those people that are feeling different and may not be the majority of the people around the table or think differently than the majority of the people around the table, they feel like their difference is valued so they share it and they’re bringing their authentic self to work which means they are able to act at 100 per cent capacity. " — Carolyn Lawrence, gender leader, inclusion & diversity at Deloitte

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Episode guest

Carloyn is the Gender Leader, Inclusion & Diversity at Deloitte with over 10 years' experience in the field. She is also a frequent speaker on diversity and inclusion as well as on women's leadership.

To learn more about Carolyn, visit her bio or connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Podcast transcript

Roberto: Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast about all things diversity in the legal profession. I am your co-host, Roberto Aburto, a lawyer at Gowling WLG in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, practicing in municipal law and litigation and one of Gowling WLG’s co-chairs of our National Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Flying solo today as Sarah Willis is off across the pond making wonderful things happen in the litigation over there. Today we have our first guest from outside Gowling WLG and although she is very well known to our organization, she recently joined Deloitte Canada to spearhead ground breaking work in diversity and inclusion. She is the leader of gender, diversity and inclusion at Deloitte Canada and I am very excited to welcome Carolyn Lawrence. Welcome.

Carolyn: Thanks very much Roberto.

Roberto: Super happy for you to take time for us today and I know we have gotten to know you because you have assisted us with launching an unconscious bias training at Gowling WLG. Let’s start with what unconscious bias is.

Carolyn: What unconscious bias is. We’re starting right at the beginning. I love it. Unconscious bias are things that we all have as a people. Even good people. For anyone out there who is thinking, I totally don’t have this, this does not apply to me, we actually all do have it as people.

What it is, a bias, a mental shortcut that we take in order to make decisions or assess a situation faster. There are a lot of great reasons why we have that. If you can imagine how many pieces of data your brain interprets every moment, every day, how many people you come in contact with, and you create mental shortcuts in order to move through life faster.

In the wild you might instantly see a snake and without thinking about it, or wondering too hard, you are probably going to move quite quickly out of the way because your mental shortcut is that can be potentially dangerous. That’s a threat to you.

Or another situation might be you’re in the doctor’s office and you haven’t met that doctor before. But they’re wearing a white coat and stethoscope and they have a degree on the wall that says they’re a doctor, so you make a mental shortcut to understand that this is someone who has been through rigorous training and that you can trust them with your information to tell you how you’re going to need to perform in order to improve your health. You’re not going to spend huge amounts of time investing in understanding who they are, how they got there, what degrees they have, or where and what did they learn in order to assess, each and every time you go to the doctor. These are just simple examples of where bias serves us.

The opposite of that is where bias doesn’t serve us. We sometimes have a mental shortcut that prevents us from understanding how difference can sometimes be good and what our instincts tell us is that people that are like us, people that look like us, people who are the same gender or age or have the same background, we have a bias shortcut that makes us like those people better or faster, because we know more about them instinctually then we do someone who has something that is different. We might view that instinctually as a potential threat or we’re not going to take the time to invest in order to get to know them as well because it might be a bit uncomfortable or take longer. But that can really harm us if we are looking at leading an organization and/or making hiring decisions, or performance management decisions, where we might let our bias take over and put that person through that has more similarities to us than not, even though there is a candidate that is different, who is equally as qualified and maybe their difference is what we need in the organization to make our solutions more rich and more diverse. Because, as we’re seeing statistics show us now, more diverse thinking and more diverse people bring additional richness to solutions and have a high correlation with stronger operating top line and bottom line in an organization. This is why we talk about unconscious bias is that we don’t know we are doing it. We do these things unconsciously and we want to become aware so that we slow down that mental shortcut. Slow down that instinct and really think through, “Am I making the best decision here for me, for my firm, for my team” and when in certain situations that are going to affect more than just yourself, these can really bring more advantage to the people around you instead of disadvantage.

Roberto: It’s interesting in terms of unconscious bias. I view a lot of the legal profession as there is a lot of good people that want to do good but some of this is recognizing that unconscious bias exists. How do employers recognize it and how should they address it?

Carolyn: Right. It’s so interesting because of that unconscious piece and I have to tell you this one story. We were in talking to a client of ours, and a senior leader, in a technology and banking industry and we were talking about how the statistics were showing us in their firm that they needed some unconscious bias training. In talking to the leader about what that was, I suggested performance management areas that might be served by having the leaders go through this and understand what circumstances are they showing their bias. Are there situations where they’re more tired or hungry or suffering from that cognitive depletion that we know we make worse decisions when we’re depleted. We know we only have a certain amount of productive brain power in the day and yet we still suffer from this and put ourselves in these situations and we can make better decisions. This leader looks at me as I’m taking him through what we can do and he almost crossed his arms, if you can imagine it, and leaned in and said “Carolyn, we’ve been leaders a long time here, we know what we’re doing. We know how to pick leaders. We know who the leaders are coming up the rank even before we posted the job.” Then we said “Well, that’s exactly the point actually because if you know who the leaders are, how did you evaluate them and was it subjective or was there a written process that your teammates and leaders and HR folks followed in a process that was fair for all of the different types of people that you might be looking for that were well qualified?”

We’ve told the story about what we did here at Deloitte when we were trying to see more women advance to the senior level of that equity partner and level of the organization and we had all of the right things in place. We wanted to do it, there were lots of programs and then there was an internal women’s network, of course, which is what a lot of organizations do to get things going, but we still weren’t seeing the effect at the top. Not until we looked at the performance management system and saw that when people were at the very top, and you can imagine there is 2 or 3 people on the slates, they are at the end of the line, it is their last interview to see if they are going to get this promotion or not, and it’s a panel review. We looked at the actual words, the minutes from those panel reviews, we looked at the words that the leaders were using to describe the potential candidates for this promotion and we saw there the bias appear. Leaders were using different words to describe men and women in terms of their readiness and capabilities to handle the next level role. Even when on paper and all the way up to that point they had received incredible glowing remarks in terms of quality and readiness for the role. The actual adjectives that they used were different so we’ve now restructured that process. We’ve added more process so that it is less subjective and when we explained this to that leader I was telling you about, who sort of crossed his arms and said, “We kind of know what we’re doing here” he did sit back and said “Hmm. That’s really interesting. We should probably look into that here”. You could just see him get that wow, okay, the good folks over at Deloitte were guilty of this too so it’s not about doing the wrong thing. We all want to do the right thing but you don’t realize this. It is unconscious until someone holds up the mirror and says “Wow. You explained this person was ready and this person wasn’t, but on completely subjective criteria that it was a lot of your bias speaking and so how can we make you aware of it and how can we disrupt that bias from happening. How can we make sure you are not tired and hungry and that you do have the process to follow even if you are so that you are making better decisions on a more regular basis.”

Roberto: One of the things that Deloitte has done for us here at Gowling is to assist us in putting a together a program on unconscious bias. What are the objectives of those types of programs? Is it a good idea for organizations to do it, and if so, why?

Carolyn: Yes. It is an amazing idea for organizations to do this. As you mentioned, my role is in diversity and inclusion so I’m not totally self-serving in saying that, but if you look at the statistics on why diversity programs are successful or why they fail, and Harvard Business Review, their summer issue was many articles on why diversity programs fail and which ones had traction and which had success. When you have a diversity program that its objective to attract and retain diverse people and/or have diverse ideas thrive in an organization, just in implementing steps to hire more women or visible minorities or whatever that diverse element is that you are looking for, it’s not going to increase revenue, it’s not going to increase the richness of your solutions to solving problems. It’s not enough. Having diverse people around the table is a good first step but you won’t necessarily see the benefits of having those diverse people around the table unless you have a culture that enables all of those diverse people and ideas to be realized.

The most critical, if you can imagine a graph, I’m a consultant so I speak in white boards, so I’m drawing with my hand but you can’t see me, if you imagine a graph, the top right hand quadrant of most successful, in terms of likeability and highest impact, the top right hand quadrant is having inclusive leadership and what that includes is a leader who leads without bias. Or at least has very strong awareness of where their biases are and can mitigate for those. That is the top right hand quadrant of most successful things in terms of creating an environment where diversity can stick. Where an organization, or a team even, can reap the benefits of having diverse people around the table if they have that inclusive culture, that inclusive leader where people understand that difference can be good, difference adds value. Those people that are feeling different and may not be the majority of the people around the table or think differently than the majority of the people around the table, they feel like their difference is valued so they share it and they’re bringing their authentic self to work which means they are able to act at 100% capacity. If people aren’t bringing that authentic self to work there is no chance they can bring 100% of their performance so you’re never getting as good as you can out of that person and/or your team. They can even drag the collective of your team because it’s awkward and painful for everybody. What we look for is what is the optimal environment for the diverse people to succeed and for your team’s collective IQ to rise and that’s with an inclusive leader and that’s with unconscious bias training. That is why we think it is so important for organizations to do because if your culture does not support the inclusiveness, if it’s operating with bias, it’s going to affect your ability to attract and retain the best talent.

Roberto: Are there any unique challenges that law firms face in becoming more diverse and more inclusive work forces?

Carolyn: Yes, but none that I don’t think can be overcome. There are certainly industries that have a more challenging go of it than others and I think that those industries involve billable hours and/or any type of professional services where the client calls for this certain time of the day and you’re there and that’s the expectation. There is also certain environments where team delivery doesn’t sound like a realistic option. I know that’s being passive in a lot of places to see, okay, maybe not but what can we do? What are those options out there? Because it’s not as similar to a corporate environment that may have an easier time to adapt to those changes in the work force. Whether that’s the increase in millennials and what they’re looking for in terms of flexibility but also in terms of what are they looking for in terms of leadership. And that’s something law firms can certainly respond to.

They can certainly respond to being inclusive leaders and to operate with less bias. They can certainly ensure that in all of their talent processes, from recruiting to performance management to succession planning. How do lawyers move through the organization? How do the team around those lawyers integrate and how is that reviewed? It’s very important for that culture to work and for those people to feel like they belong at every step of that employee’s life cycle. From when you’re recruited to when you’re on boarded, as you move through and up and even as an alumni of the firm, how do you continue to integrate and how do you belong? Those are things that you can implement. Those are huge opportunities for a firm that I would hope, as we know, Gowling WLG takes it very seriously because we’ve been in and talking to you about how important that is and we’re here today. I think these are all positive things. There is so much opportunity for you to focus on these.

Roberto: In terms of leadership, obviously that’s a critical piece and I agree in terms of the Harvard Business Review articles that really emphasize that piece, but in terms of individual lawyers or articling students, young lawyers, young partners, are there any tips on what they could do to improve diversity and inclusion at their firms.

Carolyn: Sorry, you said the young lawyers and new people to the firm?

Roberto: Sure, yes, aside from just leadership. There are a lot of other people in the firm, how can they help put us on the right track and inch us in the right direction?

Carolyn: I would say feeling confident to voice things as they’re happening. I read some research that has said millennials will handle a culture or a leader or an environment in their way and if they’re not getting what they’re needing they’re going to start looking for a new job and then tell you when it’s too late. They’re sort of already one foot already out the door or maybe both. As a younger person or person still on the earlier track of their career, I would say that the leadership, even if they don’t exhibit the inclusive leadership skills every day that you are looking for, they want to and being confident enough to call out bias when you see it and/or tell them that you have a high degree of need for feedback because that’s the environment in which you’ve been raised.

We actually brought in a millennial the other day to talk to us. It was quite funny that we just did that but she says “Imagine the environment that we’ve grown up in. Everything you do, when you touch it or walk into a room or have an event, it lights or beeps or shares, everything has an immediate feedback.” So remind the people that you’re working with that didn’t grow up in that environment that that is your environment and that’s why you need it and that’s why you are looking for feedback. Same with any type of behaviours that you are looking for more growth opportunities. That’s a number one reason why younger people are leaving their work places because they don’t have the degree of personal growth that they’re looking for. Explain those things because I think in a lot of cases leaders understand that there is an evolution that needs to happen with every new generation coming through the ranks, but we’ve never had more generations in the work place at the same time that we do right now. That can be solved with good communication skills. We think that if you bring your full self to work and have those open dialogues with your leaders in a way that you can both get to a better place, I think that’s a really good thing.

Roberto: This has been really great. I think that it would be pretty easy to fill up quite a few episodes with this and maybe that is a hint of what we’ll need to do in Season 2. Thank you so much for being with us today. This has been really great and helpful and it’s a really big topic but it’s nice to take a moment to scratch the surface. Thank you very much.

Carolyn: Thank you for having me and good luck with them.

Roberto: This has been Season 1 of Diversonomics. Bit a of a landmark for us and a little bit sorry that Sarah is not here today but Sarah Willis will be back in Season 2. We’ll return in early 2017. I know we did not get to all the topics we wanted to, far from it, so if you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for topics and guests please look us up at gowlingwlg.com and get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you. Also make sure to check out the show notes for this episode at gowlingwlg.com/diversonomics6. Last, but not least, make sure to subscribe to iTunes, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts, and you’ll never miss an episode. While you’re at it leave us a review and let us know what you think. You can also follow me on Twitter @robaburto. Carolyn, do you have anything to plug?

Carolyn: I would say I’m just really happy with some of the newest work that we are doing on diversity of thought. I’d love to talk just for a minute about that, about how diverse ideas are adding a lot of richness to making decision as a team. Look for information from Deloitte on that. We’ve got a few thought leadership pieces that can be found on Deloitte.ca or .com, as well as a book that was recently published on how we got to understand that and how we make it happen in a team or firm to make better decisions all the time.

Roberto: Fantastic. Be sure to check that out and again, that may provide a lot more topics for us in the future. Again, this has been Diversonomics. Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG and produced by Jessica Bowman with special assistance from Mark Josselyn. Until next time, keep supporting D and I.

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